TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — No. 2 Alabama’s once-deep receiving corps has been hit by its third big injury.
The Crimson Tide lost deep threat Kenny Bell to a broken leg against Auburn, marking the third major hit among receivers this season. It has left a thinned-out group facing No. 3 Georgia in Saturday’s Southeastern Conference championship game.
Coach Nick Saban said Monday he’s considering playing highly touted freshman Chris Black, who had shoulder surgery in August, over the final two games. Black is in line for a redshirt season.
“He’s been practicing for three weeks now. Now he’s been cleared,” Saban said Monday. “So we’re going to try to get him some reps because we’re getting down to where we only have maybe five guys that have much experience at the position. We still feel good about the guys that we have. We just need to get more guys ready to play so that they can complement each other.
“You’d like to be able to roll guys in and out at that position.”
The Tide (11-1) has been able to do that pretty well this season despite the casualties. DeAndrew White started the first five games before a season-ending knee injury against Mississippi.
Now, Bell has had surgery and is out five or six weeks. Saban said it’s up to the team doctors to determine when he can return.
Bell is averaging a team-high 25.4 yards per catch and had the team’s two longest receptions, 85 yards against Florida Atlantic and 57 versus Mississippi State.
The biggest playmaker for quarterback AJ McCarron has clearly been freshman Amari Cooper, easily the team leader with 767 yards and eight touchdowns. He has three 100-yard games in his last six games despite being held without a catch against LSU, when he missed the second half with an ankle injury.
“The one you notice is Cooper, obviously,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “He’s the leading receiver. He’s definitely the go-to guy, the deep ball guy, made some wonderful plays. Some of the long yardage receptions have been just launching it out there deep and him making a play. He’s also caught a couple balls, shorter range balls, made people miss, has taken it to the house or had some big plays.
“He’s very versatile. They have a couple other guys that have been outstanding for them, as well.”
Kevin Norwood and Christion Jones are veterans having solid seasons but no other healthy wideout has more than four catches.
Tight end Michael Williams is fourth on the team with 19 catches and tailback Eddie Lacy fifth with 18.
Georgia can relate to Alabama’s problems.
The Bulldogs’ Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett have both been lost for the season with knee injuries. They were leading the team in receiving at the time of their injuries.
Alabama started preseason camp with plenty of bodies at receiver despite the departure of Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks. The numbers have since dwindled.
“It was really deep. It’s a shame that we had a lot of injuries,” Norwood said. “Injuries happen. We just got to deal with it the best way we can.”
With Alabama trying to play for a national championship, Black’s situation presents an interesting dilemma. One of the nation’s top receiving prospects, he enrolled in January and scored on a 44-yard catch-and-run play in the spring game.
Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner has faced him frequently in practice and thinks he could get the job done if needed.
“He’s been practicing against us for, like, the last three weeks, giving us a great look of different receivers from different teams,” Milliner said. “He does a great job with that. Hopefully, if he can play he’ll be a big step for us.”
FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Boise State head football coach Chris Petersen is taking a different approach to the series of annual questions and speculation linking him to nearly every available head coaching job in college football. This year, at least at the outset, Petersen is resorting to humor. When asked Monday about his name being mentioned in the search for the bevy of new coaching vacancies, Petersen simply looked at his watch, noted the time and chided reporters for taking so long to once again bring up the subject. “Twenty-two minutes, that’s better than I thought,” Petersen said. “It’s just rumors. That’s all I really want to say about this, and I say it every year.” While Petersen’s tone publicly may be different, the message — at least right now — is the same: He has no intention to leave the Broncos. Petersen’s name surfaces in ritualistic fashion around the same time many of his colleagues at bigger schools are getting fired. Last year it was Penn State; the year before that Stanford when Jim Harbaugh left for the NFL. This year, media, bloggers or others posting on the Internet are tying him to Arkansas, Colorado and California. Also looking for new coaches are two other SEC schools, Auburn and Tennessee, plus Boston College and Purdue. Earlier this year, Petersen signed a contract extension that pays him more than $2 million per year. The deal keeps him under contract through January 2017.